Wayne Collett: Athlete who staged a Black Power protest at the 1972 Olympic Games

After receiving his silver medal for second place in the 400 metres at the 1972 Munich Olympics, Wayne Collett stood on the podium alongside the gold medallist Vince Matthews.

They turned away from the American flag, and with hands on hips, chatted casually until The Star Spangled Banner had finished. Then, as Matthews twirled his medal, Collett gave a black-power salute.

It was a far less dramatic protest than the famed bowed-head clenched fist demonstration by Tommie Smith and John Carlos in Mexico City four years before, but the official response was even more emphatic. In Mexico, the United States Olympic Committee had refused to expel Smith and Carlos from the games until the IOC threatened to disqualify the entire US athletics team. This time, when the IOC President Avery Brundage, who as head of the USOC in 1936 Berlin had authorised Americans to give the Nazi salute, called Matthews and Collett's actions a "disgusting display", the US team immediately sent them home. In their absence, and an injury to John Smith, the US withdrew from the 4x400m relay and Great Britain took the silver medal behind Kenya.

If Collett's political theatre failed to make the impact of Smith's and Carlos's, it was also far overshadowed by the tragedy of the kidnapped Israeli Olympians that cast a shadow over the Munich Games. It had an improvised quality. "I couldn't stand there and sing the words because I don't believe they're true," Collett said. On the 20th anniversary of Munich, he explained further, saying, "I love America. I just don't think it's lived up to its promise. I'm not anti-American at all. To suggest otherwise is to not understand the struggles of blacks in America at the time."

Collett had gone to Munich a heavy favourite after winning the US Olympic trials with the fastest 400m time recorded at sea level, 44.1 seconds, beating a field that included Lee Evans, whose world record had been set in Mexico's altitude four years earlier. Collett, and Smith, his college team-mate at UCLA, expected to finish one-two, but Smith pulled up hurt in the final, and Matthews was the surprise winner in 44.66, with Collett second in 44.80.

Born in Los Angeles, Collett was a high school track star who stayed at home to attend UCLA. Built powerfully at 6ft 2in and 180lb, he was dominant in the collegiate 440 yard race, and ran the anchor leg on three consecutive national championship 4x440 relay teams. His coach, Frank Bush, called him the greatest athlete he had ever coached. In 1972 he had supported Collett, saying, "I was disappointed and told him that to his face, but I love him just as much as I did before the Olympics."

After Munich, Collett returned to UCLA, where he had already earned his BA, and took business and law degrees. "People say that Mark Spitz's gold medals are worth $5 million to him," he said at the time. "One of my professors told me what I did cost me $100,000. Maybe it did, but my peace of mind, being able to sleep at night, being able to live with myself, is worth that much." He went on to practise law in Los Angeles before moving into real estate and mortgage brokering.

Collett died after a long battle with cancer, and is survived by his wife Emily and two sons, Aaron and Wayne II. On the 40th anniversary of Munich, he was asked if, knowing what he does now, he would have taken the same action. "Things are very different today," he said, "but I've never been one to sing the anthem. It's not my style."

Wayne Curtis Collett, athlete, lawyer, businessman: born Los Angeles 20 October 1949; married (two sons); died Los Angeles 17 March 2010.

Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol
art'Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' followed hoax reports artist had been arrested and unveiled
Pistorius leaves Pretoria High Court to be taken to prison

Stephanie first after her public appearance as a woman at Rad Fest 2014

Life and Style

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
James Blunt's debut album Back to Bedlam shot him to fame in 2004

Singer says the track was 'force-fed down people's throats'


Endangered species spotted in a creek in the Qinling mountains

Life and Style

Company says data is only collected under 'temporary' identities that are discarded every 15 minutes

peopleJust weeks after he created dress for Alamuddin-Clooney wedding
Life and Style
A street vendor in Mexico City sells Dorilocos, which are topped with carrot, jimaca, cucumber, peanuts, pork rinds, spices and hot sauce
food + drink

Trend which requires crisps, a fork and a strong stomach is sweeping Mexico's streets

Arts and Entertainment
George Lucas poses with a group of Star Wars-inspired Disney characters at Disney's Hollywood Studios in 2010

George Lucas criticises the major Hollywood film studios

football West Brom vs Man Utd match report: Blind grabs point, but away form a problem for Van Gaal
Life and Style

Some experiencing postnatal depression don't realise there is a problem. What can be done?

Arts and Entertainment
Gotham is coming to UK shores this autumn
tvGotham, episode 2, review
Adel Taraabt in action for QPR against West Ham earlier this month
footballQPR boss says midfielder is 'not fit to play football'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Systems and Network Administrator

Negotiable: Randstad Education Leicester: We are recruiting for a Systems and ...

English Teacher

£120 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Group: English as an Additional Langua...

Nursery assistants required in Cambridgeshire

£10000 - £15000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Nursery assistants re...

History Teacher

£60 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Liverpool: Job opportunities for Seconda...

Day In a Page

Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album